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How SDR Tech Is Deployed for Military Applications

Updated: 1 day ago

A side view of a military aircraft carrier on the water

Software defined radios (SDRs) have been a focus area for military organizations for years. It is considered the ideal technology for reliable tactical communication for defense forces. SDRs have numerous military applications, from command and control system management to tactical battlefield radios, satellite communication, radar systems, and more.

They are a versatile medium of data transmission, especially in areas that aren’t covered by traditional telecommunication towers or where it’s unviable to use the latter owing to security concerns. Russia’s war in Ukraine has further amplified these concerns and highlighted for global militaries the importance of secure, flexible battlefield communication.

Here’s a look at why software defined radios are ideal for military applications and how modern armies might go about using them.

Radio Communication in the Defense Industry

Robust communication is at the heart of military planning and execution. It is vital for intelligence gathering, battlefield strategy, force deployment, and tactical maneuvers. Since the inception of analog radio, radio frequency (RF) devices have been a crucial part of warfare and defense operations.

Radios help exchange information among various segments of the military and all its operational elements, such as military HQ, command posts, vehicles and aircraft, troops, and unmanned vehicles. All of these entities use radios to transmit and receive messages to successfully execute missions.

Radio communication is also necessary for the exchange—and often live-streaming—of audiovisual data between authorized personnel, satellites, and intelligence platforms. The increasingly complex demands of modern warfare and the need for absolutely secure communication channels have led military planners to consider SDR technology for their applications.

SDR succeeds where traditional RF devices fall short, namely with transmitting multi-channel, multi-waveform communications over a highly secure network via devices that can be rapidly reconfigured for new missions.

An airborne military helicopter

Understanding SDR Technology

Before diving into how SDR tech is deployed for military applications, it’s worth understanding how they work.

A software defined radio is a transceiver that is able to execute RF-related operations using software instead of hardware used by traditional systems. With an SDR, the RF signal is converted to a digital bit stream and all of the signal modulation, demodulation, and processing is done with digital signal processors (DSPs). The objective is to create a communication device that can receive and transmit new radio waveforms just by running new software.

A typical SDR consists of two main parts: the radio frontend (RFE) and the digital backend. The RFE is responsible for transmit and receive functions across a suitably wide tuning spectrum. This frequency range can extend anywhere from 150 MHz to 2.4 GHz, supporting instantaneous bandwidth across multiple independent channels.

The digital backend is essentially what makes SDRs unique and so useful for military applications. It performs all the DSP functions, including modulation, demodulation, upconverting, downconverting, and data transfer, in addition to enabling the reconfiguration of the device.

Altogether, this architecture allows SDRs to outperform analog radios in almost every way. They offer advanced features and superior capabilities that offer operators more flexibility in how and what they can communicate. SDRs are also an excellent bridge technology in that they can seamlessly integrate into existing and legacy systems, offering an effective way to transition to modern technology without compromising effectiveness.

Examples of Military Applications for Software Defined Radios

SDRs are very much considered a next-generation technology and expected to be the standard for defense communications in the future. There are a host of ways military planners can integrate them into day-to-day operations.

1. Augmenting Hardware Capabilities

SDRs can be easily connected to existing communication hardware, such as antennas and amplifiers. Once integrated, their Multiple Input Multiple Output (MIMO) capabilities immediately enable the activation of multiple radio chains on legacy platforms.

2. Satellite Navigation

Satellite navigation is one of the military applications where SDRs can have a transformative impact. Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) are central to target geolocation and tracking.

GNSSes are radio-enabled platforms that rely on satellites to identify the position of an entity. In areas with patchy networks, military planners could well be hamstrung by the lack of reliable geolocation data and unable to execute missions. SDRs are a great solve for this, allowing commanders to gather and communicate the intelligence they need seamlessly, regardless of where their assets are placed.

3. Electronic Warfare (EW)

RF devices are a legitimate target for enemy strikes, just as a railway line or military transport vehicle carrying men and materials would be. This has led to militaries developing electronic warfare capabilities, where they attempt to disrupt or eavesdrop into an enemy’s electronic communications to gain an advantage.

SDRs are vital to this particular military application of radio communication. Advanced SDR solutions such as frequency hopping and RF shielding can help a military secure their communications while allowing for signal interception and analysis and signal jamming of their own.

Partner With a Proven U.S. SDR Solutions Provider

XetaWave is the largest independent manufacturer of wireless radio solutions in the U.S. Our high-performance SDRs are 100% designed, manufactured, and tested in-house at our state-of-the-art facility in Louisville, Colorado. See outstanding results with fully customizable products that can be integrated into practically any defense use case. Reach out to schedule a demo for military applications for our SDR products.

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